Randy Williams has been campus safety specialist at Burlingame High School for the past 19 years, and in the district for over 30 years. Unbeknownst to many students, however, is Williams’s unique perspective as a black resident of San Mateo County.
Throughout the month of April, Williams talked to multiple classes about his family’s experience in the San Mateo area in hopes of bringing perspective to how our country’s dark history of racism and intolerance touched our local area and affected his experience as a student.
Williams started his talk by explaining his family’s role in the migration of African Americans to the Bay Area, particularly San Mateo County. He explained that his paternal grandfather was a chef in Chicago, where his family was based originally. His grandfather decided to open a restaurant in San Mateo and invited black residents from Chicago to come and work at the restaurant. He not only provided them steady jobs but also offered to pay for down payments on their houses in San Mateo. His encouragement initiated one of the first migrations of African Americans to the San Mateo area.
Once this migration started, the Williams family, along with several other African American residents, began to integrate into the San Mateo community in several ways: Williams’s mother became the first black professor at the College of San Mateo; his sister was the first black cheerleader at San Mateo High School; his other sister became the first black homecoming queen. Williams himself contributed greatly to the community as the senior class president at Serra High School.
Unfortunately, the Williams family’s involvement in the community was not accepted openly. In fact, he told students about the many times he was excluded and segregated against.
“Segregation was alive here, it wasn’t just in the south,” Williams said. “Black people didn’t live in Burlingame or come to the avenue to shop. We had our own downtown. As kids, I was told not to come to Burlingame Avenue by myself; we had to come with adults. If not, we would have been harrassed.”
Williams’ talk opened eyes for many students who have grown up surrounded by the accepting area that the Bay Area has come to be.
“I was surprised about how honest [Randy] was about his history with racism in this area” junior Joe Flood said. “I’m glad that we have grown past that time.”
Although much has changed in Burlingame since the times when African Americans had to avoid shopping on the Avenue alone, Williams emphasized that there is still more work to be done.
“I believe I treat people the way I want to be treated,” he said. “Living here, there has been change, but it still needs a lot of work. It’s your guys’ generation’s turn to make the change. Change is happening, but it’s happening too slowly. It’s your turn to speed it up.”